Feds examine Colorado basin water shortage
July 16, 2013
Colorado officials are viewing the Bureau of Reclamation's Colorado River Basin Water Demand and Supply Study as a wake-up call, urging the federal government to "make every drop count."
Senator Mark Udall chaired a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power on Tuesday, urging his colleagues to adopt strategies to reverse the widening gap between supply and demand for the almost 40 million people — including Summit County residents — who depend on the Colorado River Basin for water.
"Water is literally what makes the West as we know it possible, from our ski resorts in places like Vail and Powderhorn, to cities like Gunnison and Grand Junction to farmers in Utah, California and Arizona," Udall said during the hearing.
The Colorado River Basin spans seven states irrigating nearly 5.5 million acres of land and helps sustain at least 22 federally recognized tribes, seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas and 11 national parks, according to the senator.
"This enormous demand, coupled with climate change and population growth, pose serious challenges for the Colorado River, our economy and our way of life," Udall said.
Bart Miller is the water program director for Western Resource Advocate, a regional conservation group based out of Boulder. He saw Tuesday's hearing as an opportunity to inform the Federal Branch of Government about the importance of the river basin study.
"The gap between supply and demand is very real issue and it's going to grow even more urgent," Miller said. "It's important we address it today, so we don't find ourselves in an even more tricky situation down the road," he said.
Colorado Senator Udall said there just simply isn't enough water to meet the need. When looking at the current long-term projections for supply and demand, demand is expected to outpace supply by 3.2 million acre feet by 2060 — enough water to supply 3.2 million homes, he said.
The study also concluded that climate change will reduce water available from the Colorado River by 9 percent, increasing the risk to cities, farms and the environment.
Water experts say it isn't too late to reverse the trends.
The supply and demand study includes costs and benefits of a range of proposals to ensure the region has enough water to support its economy, environment and quality of life. Senator Udall said reducing demand through innovation, conservation and better management of supply, will help reduce the basin's vulnerabilities. He also expressed the need to focus on conservation activities and water reuse and recycling.
Miller said the first step toward action is recognizing the problem.
"Individuals in urban areas can and should live within their means, and find more local solutions to use less water to meet their everyday needs," he said.
Small steps that reduce overall water usage include identifying and fixing water leaks, updating toilets and shower heads, and using water-efficient dishwashers and washing machines, he said.
Colorado residents will play a large part in shaping the overall health of the basin as the state commences work on the Colorado Water Plan, Miller said. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will submit a draft of the plan for the governor's review in 2014, and will work with the governor's office to complete the plan in 2015.
"There are a lot of interested parties that are going to be engaged in making the plan the best it can be, and reflect the modern values of people in Colorado," Miller said.
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